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They were strangers until they met in America. Now they are best friends, united by their culture and Filipino roots.
The small group of men and women, who once called the Philippines their home, shared their joy as some of them became American citizens on Wednesday, while others shared their concerns about family and friends whose lives have been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, which struck Saturday.
“Congratulations,” Teresita Castillo-Badman, 58, and Jannet Relacion-Steward, 40, greeted each other simultaneously, before bursting into laughter, kissing each other’s cheek and embracing tightly.
“It feels good; happy, doesn’t it?” Mrs. Castillo-Badman said as Mrs. Relacion-Steward nodded her head in agreement.
The women, both from the Philippines, were among 38 new citizens who participated in a naturalization ceremony at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion.
The ceremony was presided over by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Vernelis Armstrong. Twenty-one countries were represented by the new citizens.
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Mrs. Castillo-Badman and Relacion-Steward considered themselves fortunate because their families and friends back in the Philippines live farthest from where Typhoon Haiyan struck.
“There was a lot of wind and rain, but everyone is safe,” Mrs. Castillo-Badman said.
Others were not as fortunate.
Guest speaker Julius Blanco, a health and prevention professional for Marathon Petroleum Corp., is a Philippines native. He was sent to America to live with relatives when he was very young.
“My father, brother, and sister are still there on my home island, which was hit,” Mr. Blanco told the crowd. “They are safe, but they were still recovering from an earthquake.
“Sometimes I feel guilty. But I was sent here when I was very young to live with my uncle and his family and I have chosen to raise my family here.”
According to media reports, the Philippine government has confirmed at least 2,275 people dead, with another 3,665 injured as of Wednesday. More than 80 people are listed as missing.
For the new citizens, the day was a time for celebration and reflection.
“I’m proud to be in the United States,” said Mrs. Relacion-Steward, who was flanked by her husband, Ocal, 61, and their daughter Stephanie, 6. “I had a dream to pursue. This was my dream; to have a nice life, a nice husband, a beautiful daughter, and lots of opportunities.”
Mrs. Relacion-Steward of Greenwich, Ohio, and Mrs. Castillo-Badman of Toledo were soon joined by their friend and mentor Verginia Walker, 71, who was born in the Philippines, but became a U.S. citizen in 1986.
“I was very thankful when Janet moved here seven years ago,” said Mrs. Walker, who lived in Crawford County at the time. “There weren’t a lot of Filipinos that came through Crawford.”
The two women soon found themselves talking on the phone every day in their native language, something both women feel strongly about — preserving their culture and heritage even though they are Americans, said Mrs. Walker, who now lives in Bowling Green with her husband, Dale.
It was a message Magistrate Judge Armstrong emphasized during the ceremony. Becoming a U.S. citizen does not mean having to forget your native culture or roots, she said.
“You are the cream of the crop,” Magistrate Judge Armstrong said. “You bring the very best your country has to offer.
“But don’t forget to honor your own culture and heritage. That’s what makes this country great.”
The new Americans and their native countries are:
Canada: Balwinderjit Kaur Mohie, Jasbir Singh Mohie, Marco Nardone
Chile: Andres Emilio Quijada Fuentes
Dominican Republic: Felix Agustin Rodriguez Morel
Egypt: Ayman Amin Badr
El Salvador: Adonay Martinez
India: Ravi Pravinchandra Chokshi, Tasvirkumar Tribhuvanbhai Jadav, Kiranmai Padmaja Madhira
Iraq: Tawfeeq Radhi Alamiri
Lebanon: Ali Youssef Elkadri, Rana Ahmad El Khatib
Liberia: Kymaeh Brisbane Gordon, Shepherd David Johnson
Mexico: Mario Eduardo Barrientos, Jesus Carrillo, Jose Trinidad Garcia, Alicia Saenz Longoria
Morocco: Abderaouf Abrighach
Nicaragua: Rafael Antonio Monge Hernandez
Nigeria: Faithful Purity Famogun
People’s Republic of China: Chao Cui, Rae Gong Lee, Hong Tang, Huan Jun Yu
Peru: Diego Santiago Nakashima
Philippines: Teresita Castillo Badman, Aireen Gervacio Morman, Jannet Relacion Steward, Heyde Janolino Vogt
Russia: Nataliya Yevgenyevna Makarova Skeans
Somalia: Boke Haji Hassan
Taiwan: Tien Pao Chu
United Kingdom: Steven Clive Moore, Olakunle Temitayo Osinowo
Vietnam: Anh Hoang Nguyen, Kristy Thanh Vo
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.
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